State of Cannabis organizer Susan Soares poses with some of her cannabis plants at her Long Beach home. Photo by Curtis Herod.
Long Beach will play host to a two-day conference on marijuana next week that will not only let attendees try the products they will discuss, but it will bring together cannabis industry leaders, elected officials, regulators and others to understand the federally illegal plant that will be sold recreationally statewide by next year.
The event includes a long list of notable guests like opening keynote speaker Lori Ajax, chief of the recently created Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulations (and previously with the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control), and Orange County Congressman Dana Rohrbacher who will provide closing comments.
This will be the second such event in Long Beach said organizer Susan Soares, who co-produced the State of Marijuana last year at the Queen Mary.
While the experience was great, she said, it took her 13 months to convince the ship’s management that the whole setup, including using real marijuana plants as decorations, was legal. In addition, differences in vision for the concept of the annual event led to her own endeavor.
“The difference is it's all about the content [this time around],” Soares told the Post. “Content is king. Profit comes second. Right now we’re at a crossroads and it's going to take real conversations not a bunch of infomercials.”
These infomercial-like conferences are what Soares feels are holding the cannabis industry back, instead of moving forward in a conscious and sustainable way, she said.
Soares said she has been to nearly every conference across the country over the past decade, and finally stopped going about two years ago.
“If you go to a couple of these conferences you’ll see the same people speaking. I wanted to pull my hair out when Montel Williams was the keynote speaker [at one conference] and he was just the longest 25-minute infomercial I’ve ever heard,” Soares recalled. “He was pushing his line of pharmaceutical cannabis and himself and how great he was and how much better he felt.”
Soares likened some conference organizers to the people selling the wheelbarrows and the picks during the state’s gold rush era.
“They know that everybody and their brother thinks they can get on the green rush now but they can't,” Soares said. “The organizers know that but they can sell a lot of tickets selling that concept.”
Soares hopes to bring together those in the cannabis industry or those who have a clear understanding of what the industry is like as well as elected officials and state regulators who play a part in shaping the laws and can hopefully connect and create deeper conversations, network and ultimately move to the next level in further developing the industry.
One way of doing this is by providing an atmosphere that allows for stimulating conversations—and not just by consuming cannabis in one of its many forms.
“The networking that happens, it’s at people’s after parties and the music is always so loud they can’t even hear each other and everybody is drinking and they’re pretty drunk,” Soares said of past conferences. “I stopped going to those. People don’t really remember you the next day or you don’t remember them, you can’t even hear each other. Or there’s so many people that it’s overwhelming that you don’t really get to hang out so my conferences are intimate enough that you will meet a lot of great people.”
Soares also noted the stigma often carried into the cannabis conferences, where guests aren’t allowed to smoke.
“You’re buying into the stigma but they’re making a bunch of money so they don’t care,” Soares said. “I was apologizing for it for a while, then I read a couple of articles about coffee shops, coffee houses changed the world in the 1900s because people went from drinking beer all day long, every day to drinking coffee and they started hanging out in all these coffee houses and all of these inventions and all of these collaborations started coming out of it. So this is like coffee houses but even more, because I think many of us can agree that cannabis opens up your mind.”
Soares was once influenced by that stigma. Once upon a time she was an Orange County-Republican-soccer mom-leader in the Mormon church. But then, at age 33 she got an injury that resulted in migraine headaches that lasted two years.
“I was a single mom with three kids and I was just ready to just give up on life because it just hurt too much to be alive,” Soares remembered.
But then she asked her neighbor, who she gardened with, about a cannabis plant she had in her garden.
“And she said, ‘It actually might help you’,” according to Soares. “I knew that if I tried it and if it did work that my entire community would turn its back on me, my family [...] because when you’re a leader in the Mormon church, when you are a very faithful member of the Mormon church, that’s your entire community. I knew what it could mean for my life but I had no choice I was taking 12 vicodins a day and that wasn't going to work.”
She ended up trying it and her family turned their backs on her and her kids and the church left her, she said.
After realizing the benefits of marijuana and that the stigma surrounding it stemmed from a lack of education, Soares said she had a 180-degree change in her mentality about drugs, about religion, and found her calling.
“I changed my views drastically, I was convinced that I was right [before],” Soares said. “Now I have an open mind and just want everyone to have a frank conversation.”
With the passage of Prop 64 in November, legalizing recreational marijuana use for those ages 21 and older, state lawmakers have just a few months to create a legal and regulatory framework.
Rules on cultivation, manufacturing, testing, distribution and sales will all need to be sorted out for an industry that may soon be worth anywhere from $4 billion to $7 billion, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Soares says it could be up to $30 billion—if done correctly.
With current regulations on tourism—which she projected could bring up to 300,000 jobs not easily replaced by robots—the state may not see its full potential.
Soares pointed to the fact that the state currently allows temporary licenses only for cannabis-related events held at fairgrounds that are sometimes too far away from tourist-attracting urban centers.
“[If] you’re from Spain and you’re going to California and you want to participate in California cannabis tourism, do you want to get off the boat in the harbor and catch an Uber two hours to San Bernardino or drive to San Bernardino?” Soares asked..
The travel time and lack of amenities around the festival fairgrounds are not the only issues, according to Soares who said a lot of the products sold at these events “would never make it through a lab” and are “full of mold and pesticides”—something the Los Angeles Department of Public Health also warns users of.
“Until we can implement adequate safety and quality standards and monitoring, you cannot be sure that the marijuana you buy is free of mold, pesticides, or other toxic chemicals,” the DPH states on its website. “While further research and regulations for marijuana are being developed, practice caution and care if consuming marijuana.”
“It’s not just about health, it's about experience and I want to make sure that everybody has a good experience,” said Soares. “I've seen people that have never used cannabis before come in and have a very bad experience and they’re not gonna ever touch it ever again. I want to make sure people have honest experiences too.”
Soares said the average customer (male in his 30s) spends his entertainment dollars to go to the event, buy a ticket, get free dabs [a dose of cannabis concentrate] “and they dab their brains out and they go home and that’s it.”
While state officials have licenses for marijuana cultivation, retail, manufacturing, transportation, labs and business licenses, they don’t have one yet for events outside of fairgrounds like “canna-crawls and bud and breakfasts.”
In a September 17 post on Above the Law, marijuana attorney Hilary Bricken predicted that the state’s cannabis industry will be huge, even 10 times bigger than Washington state, Oregon and Colorado combined.
“If California successfully provides for public consumption and benefits from cannabis tourism (even if only in select cities and towns) the reverberations from this will be felt nationwide," wrote Bricken.
And Soares believes Long Beach is one of those cities with a perfect set up that can provide for really interesting experiences.
“I hate to call it the new Amsterdam because I don't see it as Amsterdam, it's not the same person that would go to Amsterdam but yeah, the mecca of cannabis,” Soares said.
Regardless of what vision each person has for the future of the cannabis industry, Soares wants to make sure those discussions, with all stakeholders involved—including Long Beach council members who have all been invited to attend the State of Cannabis.
“I want them to understand what it could do for Long Beach,” she said.
The State of Cannabis will be held Thursday, September 28 and Friday, September 29 at the Grand Long Beach Events Center, located at 4101 East Willow Street.
Attendees will be able to enjoy cannabis products and equipment; hear about recently implemented government rules and regulations; network at “The Patio”; enjoy “VIP treatment” at the lounge, courtesy of Green Goat Estates; wander a forest of cannabis plants; enjoy food, drinks and trees at an afterparty; free parking.